We’ve all been there: You have 3 one night stands in a row, fall pregnant and then 20 years later your daughter tracks all three down on her wedding day using only the songs of ABBA in an attempt to find out which is her father. Sound familiar?
That’s the basic premise of Mamma Mia, the hit musical featuring the songs of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. The show has now been running in London’s West End for an incredible 17 years and since then, national tours and productions have sprung up around the world. So what is it that makes the show such an enduring hit? And who are the characters? Let’s take a tour through the Greek Islands to the fabulous world of Mamma Mia:
Firstly, here are our “Top Five Things” you never knew about Mamma Mia:
- During early London previews, audiences laughed so hard at the actors’ serious delivery of dialogue like “Chiquitita, tell me…what’s wrong?” that scenes had to be hastily redirected with tongues firmly in cheeks – it worked and the show became a monster hit.
- Producer Judy Craymer met Benny & Björn while they were in London promoting their first musical, Chess. She loved the theatricality of The Winner Takes It All and suggested a musical using ABBA’s back catalogue. At first the boys were less than enthusiastic but thankfully Judy changed their minds!
- Mamma Mia has strong female leads – and the team behind the show was also comprised of three amazing women: Producer Judy Craymer, writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd.
- Mamma Mia’s cast gets through 121 bras per show and the musical is the 8th longest running show in West End history. That’s a lot of underwire!
- 33,000 Rhinestones have to be individually sewn on to the costumes used in Super Trouper. If just one rhinestone were to come loose, it’s believed the whole Swedish economy could collapse.
Meet the characters (in order of appearance):
Sophie managed to grow up in Greece without a trace of a Greek accent. She is getting married to Sky. Her mother, Donna, has a terrible habit of leaving her diary lying around. Sophie’s main hobbies are reading other people’s diaries and singing Abba songs.
Lisa & Ali
Lisa & Ali are Sophie’s best friends. They perform important Musical Theatre duties such as singing, acting and explaining elements of plot which cannot otherwise be explained through Swedish Pop Music.
Best friend of Donna, Tania has developed a deliciously cynical view of the world. Once a member of “Donna and the Dynamos” she has since made a living by divorcing as many times as possible.
An unmarried British author and other best friend to Donna. Rosie also sang with “Donna and the Dynamos”. Now dumpy frumpy and middle aged but still a up for a laugh, she remains quite a man-eater if left unwatched.
Mamma Mia is set on a Greek Island, so book writer Catherine Johnson decided to name the lead character after a kebab. To complete the cliché, Donna owns a taverna and wears dungarees – presumably to cover the chilli sauce stains.
Sky is the boyfriend of Sophie and soon-to-be-son-in-law of Donna. He set off around the world in search of himself, but only made it as far as the West End. He now earns a living designing Greek versions of Tripadvisor and taking his top off.
The slightly crazy sidekick/best man to Sky, Pepper (not to be confused with the cartoon pig) tends bar for Donna and is quite the smitten kitten when he bumps into her best friend and Musical Theatre cougar, Tania.
One of Sophie’s three possible fathers. A writer and adventurer, Bill falls in love with Rosie. Bill is only Swedish in the film – presumably to keep Scandinavian cinema-goers, the chef in the muppets and the rest of ABBA happy?
An architect and the second of Sophie’s three possible fathers. Sam broke Donna’s heart 20 years before when he returned to his wife-to-be. But Sam soon realised he loved Donna and returned to win her back, only to find she had found a new way to keep her kebabs warm.
The third of Sophie’s three possible fathers, Harry confesses that Donna was the first – and last – woman that he loved. He then realised why – and ended up with two dogs and a husband.
The Creative Team
Catherine Johnson wrote the book for both the Stage and Screen versions of Mamma Mia, spurred on by earlier successes including writing many of the best lines in series 9 of Byker Grove.
Judy Craymer reportedly made £90m from the success of Mamma Mia. She later turned her back on success by developing Viva Forever, a musical featuring the songs of the Spice Girls. Sadly it turned out to be Viva Not Forever and the show quickly waved Goodbye.
Now a CBE, Phyllida Lloyd directed Mamma Mia on both stage and screen. She loved Meryl Streep so much that she stalked her until she finally gave in and agreed to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
Mamma Mia: The Movie
Following the incredible success of Mamma Mia on stage, in 2008 the decision was taken to make as much money as possible by releasing a movie version. This also gave several screen hunks, including Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, the chance to demonstrate why singing is sometimes best left to the professionals. Despite some bum notes, the film became the highest grossing British movie of all time.
Top Five reasons people love Mamma Mia on Stage:
- It reminds them of being on holiday
- The show is packed full of great Abba songs and Pierce Brosnan doesn’t sing any of them
- The cast is full of young pretty people dancing and singing
- You always leave the theatre on cloud nine
- The French and Saunders spoof of Mamma Mia for Comic Relief
Abba Songs featured in Mamma Mia (in order)
Honey Honey (Sophie)
Money, Money, Money (Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Pepper & Ensemble)
Thank You for the Music (Sophie, Sam, Harry & Bill)
Mamma Mia (Donna & Ensemble)
Chiquitita (Donna, Tanya & Rosie)
Dancing Queen (Donna, Tanya & Rosie)
Lay All Your Love on Me (Sky, Sophie, Male Ensemble)
Super Trouper (Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Female Ensemble)
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (Male ensemble)
The Name of the Game (Sophie and Bill)
Voulez Vous (Ensemble)
Under Attack (Sophie and Ensemble)
One of Us (Donna)
SOS (Donna & Sam)
Does Your Mother Know (Tanya, Pepper & Ensemble)
Knowing Me, Knowing You (Sam)
Our Last Summer (Harry & Donna)
Slipping Through My Fingers (Donna & Sophie)
The Winner Takes It All (Donna)
Take a Chance on Me (Rosie & Bill)
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do (Sam, Donna and Company)
I have a Dream (Sophie)
Mamma Mia (Company)
Dancing Queen (Donna, Tanya, Rosie & Company)
So, what are you waiting for? Unleash your inner Dancing Queen and book tickets for Mamma Mia today – it’s about the most fun you can have in a theatre!
Mamma Mia is now showing at London’s Novello Theatre.
Running Time (including interval): 2h 45m
Could you see Mamma Mia again and again and again? Check out our feature on Musical Theatre Superfans!